Top 10 moves for a successful second half to the Obama presidency.
10. Lose the teleprompter. It’s a horrible, self-destructive device for a guy as smart as you.
9. Communicate in plain English. For example, ban the use of the word “policy,” which most Americans associate with insurance – a necessary evil no one likes. In the political context, it’s an elitist word and a barrier to understanding. In the same vein, ban the word “agenda,” which is a meaningless word the right wing uses against you.
8. Stay out of the news. The press wants to make Obama the lead every day, all day, because it’s easy. That’s because everybody who’s ever been to an action/adventure movie knows the black guy will be the first to go. Forget the photo ops for a while.
7. Before taking the advice in No. 3, invite the new Republican members of Congress to breakfast at the White House will full press coverage. Take the lead, gently but repeatedly, in defining the Tea Party no-nothings to the public. Give them the rope to hang themselves. This is vital.
6. Energize your bureaucracy. Tell the IRS to probe the tax exemption of religious and right-wing groups that engage in illegal electioneering. Have your justice department join openly with state attorneys general who are going after the mortgage fraudsters. Push the EPA to take a strong lead on climate issues through regulation and enforcement. Demand public spending disclosure post Citizens United v. FEC -- the public is with you on that.
5. Make heroes of Mary Schapiro at the SEC and Elizabeth Warren at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These are effective, articulate spokespersons for government on the side of the little guy. You need more people like this in the White House and other agencies.
4. Bring business executives from the manufacturing sector – not Wall Street – into prominent White House jobs. Two candidates: Dan DiMicco, CEO of Nucor Corp. (non-unionized steel maker), and Samuel Allen, CEO of Deere & Co. (unionized global manufacturer). These guys are critical actors in America’s future, but almost no one knows who they are.
3. Push infrastructure spending. Here’s one area there business lobby agrees with you, but you’ve been too timid. Business execs in the manufacturing sector will bash Obama all day. But if you ask them what they want the most, they’ll say a multiyear highway construction bill. You need to wrap your arms around these people.
2. Travel abroad for the sole purpose of promoting U.S. exports. Such junkets used to be standard fare for U.S. politicians. They work. You need to be seen as Mr. Export. Bring home the bacon.
1. Get out of Afghanistan. Bring the troops home. The recent news from Yemen gives you the opening. Your mission should be to go after terrorists, wherever they are. The Afghan people have proven they can take can of themselves. Renew that opportunity for them.
The frustration of Democrats as the November elections approach arises in part from the effectiveness of the lies being told by the other side. Like children at recess screaming in the school yard, “not so!” “is, too,” neither side is accomplishing anything useful . But the liars are winning.
The best example, of course, is the lie that President Obama is a Muslim. The effectiveness of this lie is remarkable for at least two reasons: No one in power believes it, and in saying “not so,” the truth tellers appear to be besmirching a prominent religion.
In terms of digging America out of the Great Recession, the liars hold a similar position. No one in power wants the U.S. economy not to rebound, if for no other reason than the risk that the size of political contribution checks might diminish, and the truth-tellers seem to be denying a conventional tenet of economic wisdom. Since the recession was caused by a global debt binge (driven more by lenders than by borrowers), advocating more debt financed economic activity seems absurd.
President Obama, who used a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee to address U.S. infrastructure needs, at long last seems to be focusing on the primary issue of his first term – the U.S. economy. In the spirit of better late than never, Obama needs to confront the lies about economic growth head on, even while recognizing that the liars will have the same advantage as they do in lying about his religion.
The softest and therefore most pernicious lie is that Obama administration policies have created “uncertainty” among business owners and managers, who thereby are frozen in place and unable or unwilling to make normal business decisions.
This lie falls easily off the tongue, especially among supposedly objective reporters, because it seems commonsensical. But it’s a lie, nonetheless, for four reasons.
First, there is never a moment, except in a theoretical arbitrage situation, in which business owners and managers enjoy certainty. The shares of stock you own would plunge in value if that were true.
Second, there is no evidence that businesses, especially the much glorified small business sector, make decisions based on speculation about possible future tax and spending policies from Washington. The driver of business is real-time consumer demand, not political posturing about future economic policies by the left or right.
Third, evidence points to the Republican Party under President George W. Bush as shifting economic policy from a focus on national interest and economic stability to a focus on the narrow, short-term greed of a political base, in this case the extremely wealthy. This shift generated more uncertainty about national economic policy than anything Obama has done. That's because Republicans aren't always in power, and a volatile, tit-for-tat tax regime responding to the last election would be ruinous.
As New York University law professor Daniel Shavior remarks in his terrific book, Decoding the U.S. Corporate Tax (The Urban Institute Press):
“Sometimes we hear of a solution in search of a problem, which someone offers to a baffled world despite the lack of any discernible need for it. Examples include the George W. Bush administration’s endless advocacy of tax cuts, interminable concert tours by the Rolling Stones when they are past age 60, and the live-action theatrical movie version of Scoobey-Doo.”
Fourth and perhaps most important, there is no evidence that Obama wants to increase taxes, except to correct the outrageous and destructive windfall Bush handed the super-rich – a move that not only would generate needed revenue but, as Shavior suggests, start the process of purging broad national tax policy-making from cynical, destabilizing appeals to a political party’s base.
One person we haven’t heard from in the hubbub over replacing Justice John Paul Stevens is Stevens himself. That’s unsurprising, but not inevitable.
Stevens doesn’t attend presidential State of the Union addresses. He keeps as far away from the political branches of government as he can. But there is precedent for Stevens to become engaged in the discussion of a Court nominee. The facile pundits who claim Stevens is the Court’s liberal hero or bum – depending on their point of view – overlook the fact that in 1987, Stevens publicly endorsed President Ronald Reagan’s choice of archconservative Judge Robert H. Bork to replace Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Stevens called Bork “a very well qualified candidate and one [who] will be a very welcome addition to the Court.” He told the audience he was addressing, “I see no reason why I shouldn’t express [my opinion] publicly.”
In my opinion, Stevens saw Bork as a peer in the law and an intellectual power who could contribute fresh ideas to Court deliberations, as he did, though probably from a different perspective. His statement on Bork’s behalf, which Bork never appreciated, testified to Stevens’s vision of the Supreme Court as non-ideological. Call it naïve, but Stevens still has that vision – more as a hope nowadays than an observation.
His belief in an independent judiciary might prompt Stevens to comment on the upcoming battle for his replacement. It’s unlikely he would publicly endorse or disapprove of a candidate, but he might seize an opportunity to throw some oil on the roiling political waters. A few words from this respected, ninety-year-old Republican appointee to the Supreme Court would go far to dial down the GOP just-say-no machine.